Getting A Visa To Visit U.S. Is A Hassle

To encourage and spur more tourism and trade, many countries have waived visas to enter their countries.

France has recently done away with visas for Malaysian travelers and now Malaysians can travel in all E.U. countries without a visa.

Others have made visa application a simple matter; e.g. getting one from the Australian High Commission in Kuala Lumpur is a breeze and it is free too! But many others are still making visa application an unpleasant and tedious experience to bona fide travelers. A case in point is getting a visa to the U.S. from the Consular Section of the U.S. Embassy in Kuala Lumpur.

Recently, I wanted to apply for a visa to go to Alaska. From the U.S. Embassy Kuala Lumpur Home Page in the Internet, I found that a non-immigrant visa procession fee of RM52-00 would have to be prepaid to the Embassy's special account at any branch of DCB Bank. Cash and bank drafts are no longer acceptable!

Hot and dusty road to the Land Of Liberty

Admittedly, there would be a certain element of risk in handling a large amount of cash; but not accepting bank drafts was quite hard to fathom.

There are other forms of easy payment like using the American Express Credit Card, which originated from the U.S. and other major credit/charge cards that are quite widely accepted in Malaysia and elsewhere in the world. By using such cards, many visa applicants would have saved a lot of time and efforts to look around for a DCB bank and bank in the visa fees. If at all DCB Bank is the Embassy's only preferred bank why not ask the bank to establish a sub-branch in the Embassy for the convenience of applicants?

I must admit that, as a bone fide traveler, it was quick and simple to get my visa application vetted and processed by the staff of the Consular Section when all the necessary documents were presented.

Then again, I was quite taken aback when the staff told me to collect my Passport the next day between 2-30pm and 3-30pm at the guardhouse outside the Embassy compound! At the same time I was given a small piece of stub which simply stated that "Anyone may claim passport with this stub". The date and time were also stated.

In Malaysia -- and I believe in all other countries -- an international passport is a privilege given by the government and, as such, I have learned to respect and treasure it. Isn't it rather mean and inappropriate to return our international passports in such a manner? Furthermore, what would happen if the stub were to be stolen or lost? Certainly, some form of verification of ownership of the stub would be necessary to avoid the passports falling into the wrong hands.

It is obvious that the value of our international passports has been taken for granted by the Consular Section of the U.S. Embassy.

As if the above procedures are not enough to cause some concern and slight to the visa applicants, the scene at the guardhouse when the applicants returned to collect their passports is pathetic.

When I returned the next day to the Embassy to collect my passport just before 2-30pm, there was already a long queue of people lining up in front of the guardhouse. They were all waiting under the blazing hot sun putting up with the dust, noise and haze, for their turn to collect the passports. What would happen to these people if heavens opened?

The Americans are supposedly the champions of human rights but why the visa applicants were treated so shabbily by exposing them, with complete disregard, to the mercy of the elements?

The only consolation I got for such a slighted treatment from the Consular Section of U.S. Embassy in Kuala Lumpur was that the visa would be valid for ten long years and that I have had a most wonderful and memorable experience in Alaska, the Americas' last frontier.

Oct 1997

(Note: A similar letter of the above was published in the New Straits Times on Oct. 7 1997 and in The Star on Oct 17 1997) 2008